Revelation 14:6-7: Semper Reformanda

Pick a date, any date.  When did reformation begin?  If you’re like most, you would say it began when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses that called for a debate on indulgences.  That was October 31st, 1517.

If you’re a bit more adventurous, you might pick 1514.  That’s when Luther had his “tower experience.”  That’s when Luther realized that what matters is the righteousness that God gives someone through faith in Christ Jesus.  But if you wanted to go out on a rickety limb, you would pick any date in Church history when the Gospel was not silenced by some aberrant, false belief.

Did you notice the question I asked?  It wasn’t, “When did THE Reformation begin?”  It was, “When did reformation begin?”  As recognized a reformer as Martin Luther is, there’s even a greater Reformer–the Lord Himself!  He’s been reforming since Adam and Eve fell into sin.  That was when God reformed them through His promise of a Savior who would destroy the devil’s work (Genesis 3:15).

But the Lord didn’t stop with Adam and Eve.  He keeps on reforming hearts and lives through His life-creating Gospel, as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament.  Today, on this Reformation Sunday, we should realize that reformation never ends.  Why?  It’s because God’s Word and Sacraments continue to reform us in His image.

The churches to which John wrote the letter of Revelation were facing hard times.  Roman authorities were trying to wipe the Christian Church off the face of the earth.  If that meant sending leaders of the Church into exile, far from the people whom God had called them to serve, so be it.  That was the case with the Apostle John.  Roman authorities had exiled him to the island of Patmos for preaching and teaching the Christian faith.

With their bishop, John, in exile, it appeared the Roman authorities had won, silencing the Church.  But that appearance was not reality.  In a vision, the Lord brought another reality to the Apostle John: “Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth–to every nation, tribe, language, and people.”

An “angel” is a messenger.  We normally think of angels as only winged, heavenly beings.  And it’s true that many of God’s messengers are heavenly beings.  But that’s not always the case.  What our reading from Revelation describes is an angel, a messenger, with the eternal Gospel that God will always send forth to proclaim His saving message.

Do you see the comfort that God was giving John and the churches he served?  They felt the Gospel was being lost!  But that was not the reality.  The Lord would see to it that His messengers would still proclaim His message, even to generations not yet born.  The Church would go on in this world.

We would be careless if we didn’t notice how the book of Revelation describes the Gospel.  It’s described as “eternal.”  That’s especially worth noting!  The Gospel is eternal because, in this world, the Gospel will always be proclaimed; it will never be fully suppressed.  Somehow, God will have His people continue to proclaim the Gospel to the end of time.  Even more, the Gospel is eternal because it produces faith, and through that faith, God grants to His people eternal life.

To the Christians suffering persecution in the days of the Apostle John, they felt the world’s fallen ways were choking out the Gospel.  Don’t we also feel that way today?  But the eternal Gospel, which God’s messenger brings, overpowers the distorting noise of sin.  “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory.’”  The Greek word for “loud voice” is the word “megaphone.”  The Lord refuses to let the sound of sin silence His Gospel.

The angel with the eternal Gospel said, “Fear God and give him glory.”  In other words, the angel calls us to what we can’t naturally do.  You see, because of our fallen flesh, which we’ve inherited from our first parents, no one has true fear of God.  If someone feared God, he would never think of coming before God on his own.  He would never think that he could somehow find favor with God because of who he is or what he has done.

That’s the religion of all people from birth.  But the Gospel changes that.  It leads us to throw away our reliance on ourselves and, instead, rely on what Christ has done.  Indeed, the Gospel reforms our hearts.

Isn’t it all grace and mercy that God didn’t leave it for us to sort out?  He saw to it that we received His message of life and, through that, He worked to reform our hearts.  Now, we trust Jesus as our righteousness and throw away the works that–we think–put us in good standing with God.  Now, when the devil says that we aren’t good enough for God, we say: “You’re a liar!  I’m covered with Jesus’ righteousness!”

But what about the generations that will follow us?  Will their hearts be reformed, so they trust in Christ and not themselves?  Again, it seems that God’s life-saving Gospel is being squelched.  We see this even in the Church, as many pastors throw out God’s reforming Word and replace it with a word of their own liking.  Nonetheless, the Gospel will continue to ring out in this world.  God will continue to have the Gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Reformation never ends.

When Luther finally understood the Gospel, that God gives us righteousness because of what Christ has done, the Holy Spirit did not stop with only reforming his heart.  He also reformed his life.  And the Holy Spirit through the Gospel also reforms our lives.

When the Gospel has been proclaimed, it first changes hearts.  But the Gospel does not stop with hearts; it changes lives, as well.  Instead of serving self, those who know the Lord Jesus and His righteousness want to serve their Savior.  The angel’s message tells us: “Fear God and give him glory, because the time for him to judge has come.  Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

For those who fear God, those for whom God’s grace in Christ continues to amaze, they worship Him.  The word for “worship” means to fall down before the Lord.  That’s a vibrant description of the Christian life–falling down before God in humility, not just in church, but every single day.  God’s people fall before Him in worship as they serve God by serving others whom God has placed in their lives.  For those are opportunities to honor God and give Him glory.

Do you live life as someone who falls down before God in worship?  Do you see every moment of your life as an opportunity to serve the Savior who has given you His righteousness?  Talk about a reformation; that’s living it out!  Our natural bent is to serve ourselves, but the Gospel changes that.

God tells us in His word that we are His dear children and that, in Him, we are rich beyond any earthly measure.  For we have all the benefits and blessings that go with being a child of God.  We have full forgiveness, eternal life, and a mansion in heaven.  Now if all that is ours, then you can see why we can use more and more of our time and treasures to serve others, as our way of serving God.

As we continue to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments, the Lord keeps reforming our lives.  As we know more fully what God does through His Word and Sacrament, we then make His means of grace a priority in our lives.  For the more God is in our lives through His means of grace, the more He works on our hearts and lives and reforms them to His glory.

Think of the blessing that God brought to others through the reformation he carried out in Martin Luther.  As Luther grew more convinced that forgiveness was a gift from God, he spent more time and energy serving others with that truth.  He translated the Bible into the language of the people.  He wrote hymns to help them commit the central truths of Scripture to memory.  He preached sermons and wrote letters to foster further understanding.

We, too, can be a similar blessing to others.  As God’s Word and Sacrament become central to our lives, we will not only speak but live out the Word of God to others.  We will support the work of Christ’s Church with our prayers and offerings.  And what will be the result?  God willing, we will impact those whom God has placed into our lives.

You may know that Martin Luther didn’t like the name “Lutheran.”  He didn’t want attention paid to him.  He, instead, wanted others to give glory to God.  So, on this Reformation Day, we do not sing praises to Martin Luther.

Instead, we are doing what Martin Luther would prefer.  And so we are here to receive God as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament.  We are here to respond to God’s grace by singing His praises.  We are here to give glory to God.  For He won’t let this fallen world silence His Gospel.  Indeed, because of God’s grace, reformation never ends.  Amen.